Almost overnight Liam Neeson became today’s Stallone or Schwarzenegger. Whether he is tracking Albanian human traffickers across Europe or fighting Alaskan grey wolves with shards of glass attached to his fists, the 61 year old Neeson has not only embraced his action stardom but he’s really good at it. But this really shouldn’t surprise anyone. A brief scan of Neeson’s filmography shows that he is a versatile actor who has never been a stranger to action roles.
He shows it again by giving us another March action thriller called “Non-Stop”. The film is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra who also worked with Neeson on the 2011 film “Unknown”. This time around he is 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean in a passenger plane and facing one Neeson-sized threat. “Non-Stop” is a huge step up from the star’s last action outing “Taken 2”. It’s a fun throwback picture that uses many of the same plot devices which service the story well despite the perfunctory impression they leave.
Neeson plays Bill Marks, a United States Federal Air Marshall who boards a non-stop flight from New York to London. We learn several things about him early on. He is an alcoholic who clearly has some emotional baggage. He also has a fear of flying (particularly takeoffs) which is a liability considering his occupation. The film also uses the familiar method of giving us brief glimpses of the major players in the film as they wait to board the aircraft – passengers, pilots, flight attendants. It’s cleverly executed here and it had me cautiously and suspiciously examining every face I was shown.
Once the plane is over the Atlantic Bill gets a phone text on his secure federal line threatening to kill someone onboard every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a bank account. At first he tries to decipher whether or not it’s a hoax, but he quickly finds out that the threat is real. With one person dead, 20 minutes until another person dies, and no way to quickly land while over the ocean, Bill has try and get control over the perilous and deadly situation.
As you can tell this is obviously pretty absurd stuff, but that doesn’t stop it from being a highly entertaining ride. Neeson gives his usual stout and sturdy performance but here he is also quite vulnerable. We do get those patented scenes where he breaks noses and snaps necks, but he also brings out the panic, perplexity, and brokenness which the story includes as part of the character. Julianne Moore plays a passenger he meets on the plane as does Corey Stoll in an entirely different role than his Hemingway from “Midnight in Paris”. Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery and recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o play flight attendants although Nyong’o is relegated to a very small part.
“Non-Stop” throws a few jabs at a number of subjects including the news media’s over anxiousness to tell a story despite its inaccuracy and various post-911 attitudes about flying and people in general. Some work better than others. The movie does take a few preposterous turns and the final revelation, while satisfying for me, was a bit goofy and requires the audience to refrain from asking some very obvious questions. On the flipside it was always casting doubt on my suspicions and I never figured out what was going on until the final reveal.
Will “Non-Stop” make anyone’s Best of 2014 list? I highly doubt it. But it is an example of a very fun and entertaining action thriller that allows the audience to just sit back and play along. It helps to have such a strong anchor as Neeson. He is comfortable with these roles and when given good material he can provide us with a really good escape. While “Non-Stop” has some obvious flaws it is an easy movie to recommend and it’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Now lets see what Neeson has in store for us next.